National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Bulletin 19, 1972

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Cézanne, Vollard, and Lithography: The Ottawa Maquette for the "Large Bathers" Colour Lithograph

by Douglas W. Druick

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Given the importance of the technical differences involved in the preparation of the black stones, it is necessary first to consider both the persistent assertion that the Small Bathers was prepared from a transfer drawing (60) and the possibility that the drawings for the other lithographs were executed directly on the stone. The Portrait of Cézanne was printed on simili japon as well as on laid paper. (61) The grain of the image, seen more clearly in the impressions on the smooth-surfaced simili japon, indicates that the drawing was executed on transfer paper. (62) In the case of the Large Bathers, printed on laid paper, the nature of the drawing surface is not as readily apparent. However, shaded areas, such as the shadow under the thigh of the reclining bather, exhibit a texture characteristic of transfer lithographs. Furthermore, the fact that the lithograph so closely follows a much earlier work in another medium (fig. I) argues in favor of preparation by means of a transfer drawing. Had he worked directly on the stone, Cézanne would have had to execute the composition in reverse. This approach was foreign to his working habits; Unaccustomed to academic practices such as squaring works for transfer, the artist undoubtedly would have found the task troublesome. It is unlikely that he would have had either the inclination or the patience to involve himself in a procedure of this nature, but would instead use transfer paper, which eliminates the need to reverse the composition.

In contrast to the lithograph in black for the Large Bathers, that for the Small Bathers does not exhibit the grain of a transfer nor does it stand in a comparable relation to an earlier work. The Sept baigneurs (V. 387) to which Venturi relates the Small Bathes (63) is compositionally very similar but includes an additional figure. Furthermore, the date of 1879-1882 which Venturi assigns to the painting is untenable: the repeated contours of the figures, the length and width of the brush-stroke, and the thin application of the paint all point to a date close to 1900. (64) This dating is supported by the stylistic and compositional relationship between the painting and a watercolour of similar subject dating to the period 1895-1900. (65)

Thus the painting, left in a very unfinished state, may well have been executed some time after the lithograph. Compositional differences and uncertainty regarding the sequence of execution therefore prohibit the assumption that, as in the case of the Large Bathers, the artist was restricted by an earlier composition. On the other hand, the Small Bathers does represent a type of "bathers" composition that the artist employed several times during the late eighties and early nineties. (66) Moreover, figures related to those in the lithograph recur in drawings and watercolours from the late eighties onwards. (67) Thus Cézanne was still faced with a problem of image-reversal, yet one considerably less complex than the Large Bathers composition would have posed.

A comparison of the drawing style of both "bather" lithographs reflects the difference in the medium of execution. In the Large Bathers lithograph (fig. 10) the disposition of forms in the painting (fig. I) is faithfully preserved, but the graphic vocabulary is that of the nineties. The contours of forms have become discontinuous; they move with the curving rhythms which characterize the artist's contemporary drawings (68) and paintings. (69) Comparison with other drawings of the same period, however, reveals a certain dry and stiff quality in the execution of the lithograph. Since transfer paper imposes no restrictions upon the artist, this slightly stiff quality can probably be accounted for by the fact that Cézanne was inhibited by the thought of having to produce a "finished" work. Since "finish" is a quality which few of his paintings and watercolours and virtually none of his drawings possess, he must have approached the task with an unaccustomed degree of caution. In order to impart a sense of completion to the drawing, he has suppressed the repeated contours one associates with his late drawing style. The vibrancy which characterizes his finest drawings is thereby diminished.

In the drawing of the Small Bathers (fig. 9) these uncharacteristic qualities are even more pronounced. The execution was so cautiously controlled that the work appears rather dull. The logical explanation for the pedantic draughtsmanship is that Cézanne was drawing directly on the stone. To an artist unaccustomed to working in this manner there are several factors that can combine to inhibit the expression of his customary graphic style. Cézanne undoubtedly felt hesitant working in a medium that had unfamiliar physical properties and that had to be handled with some care. (70) In addition, since the figure and compositional types did derive from all established repertoire, the artist had to think in terms of reversed images, a situation that undoubtedly inhibited spontaneous execution. Both these constraints must be seen as having contributed to the partial paralysis of the artist's usual graphic style.

Since there has been no attempt to relate the lithographs in black to the circumstances of their execution, they have hitherto been misdated. In his catalogue raisonné, Venturi assigned a date of 1890-1900 to both "bather" lithographs but gave the Portrait of Cézamle to the period 1898-1900. In a more recent publication, the Small Bathers was assigned to the period 1890-1897, while the Large Bathers was dated 1899. (71)

Since all the lithographs were certainly done for Vollard, none of them could have been executed before 1895, the year in which the dealer first contacted the artist. The occasion for the association was Vollard's decision to organize the first major exhibition of the artist' s work. We know, however, that Cézanne left Paris in June 1895, (72) before Vollard had the opportunity to meet him; the Cézanne exhibition, which opened at Vollard's gallery in rue Lafitte in November, was arranged entirely through the artist's son Paul, who had remained in Paris. (73) It is highly unlikely that the dealer would have asked the artist to execute lithographs before having made his acquaintance. Vollard did not actually meet Cézanne until he visited him in Aix in the winter or spring of 1896. (74) Judging from the dealer's description of the rather cool treatment with which he was received at that time, (75) it is unlikely that he chose that occasion to make his request. Since the dealer's persistence was undoubtedly the primary force behind Cézanne's decision to execute lithographs, it is more reasonable to assume that Vollard waited for the artist to come to Paris before presenting his proposition. Only then could the dealer have been in a position to importune successfully the undoubtedly reluctant artist. Cézanne apparently did not come to Paris until the fall of 1896. He remained there until April of the following year. (76) After this departure, he does not seem to have returned to the city until the fall of 1898. (77)

The tendency to date the Small Bathers earlier than the two other lithographs reflect the assumption that since it alone appeared in the 1897 album, the others must have been done later. Thus in the only article devoted solely to the Large Bathers lithograph, Melvin Waldfogel maintains the commonly-held belief that the Large Bathers was "commissioned by Vollard specifically for L'album des peintures graveurs of 1898." (78) To construct a chronology on the basis of publication dates is, however, incorrect. As has been pointed out (note 54), the third portfolio was not scheduled to appear in 1898 and there is no evidence that Vollard commissioned works specifically for it. Full of schemes and ideas for publications, he evidently obtained works from artists whenever he could and kept them until the opportunity to publish arose.

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